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Thursday, May 19, 2016


Steve Cole's thoughts on time travel.
From time to time, Steven Petrick and I (usually over dinner) will propose tactical challenges from historical battles. Some of them involve time travel, and the idea of: "Your mission is to take X to this battle and change the outcome. How are you going to do it?"
In one recent exercise, I imagined waking up in March 1940 with no directives or preparations for what I was supposed to do. Being a patriotic American I decided that I wanted to see Hitler defeated at a lower cost in lives, and perhaps leaving America in a stronger position in Europe after the war. How would I do that?
1. The first thing I have to do is contact someone in the US government who will give me a chance to prove that I am not insane. I decided to approach Wild Bill Donovan, a man of vision who would later create the OSS and CIA. I know that he traveled a lot (mostly to England) and that he had a business in New York City. It would seem that a phone book would get me to his office, and assuming he was not out of town, I would have one chance to get an audience. My plan was to craft a document listing lots of things I know from history (about him, FDR, Churchill, and the US), and a few predictions. With luck, that would at least get me a meeting. Then I just flat tell him that I'm a time traveler, that I know he thinks I'm crazy, but if my predictions come true for a German invasion of Norway and then France, I might be taken more seriously. I could mention the Manhattan project, Ultra, Magic, Bletchley Park, and a few other super-secret things no one knew about. Presumably, if he didn't know, he knew someone who could say "get this guy under lock and key." Sooner or later, I would be taken seriously as a known time traveler.
2. Then it becomes a matter of what to tell them. I would of course tell them anything they wanted to know, but we'd have to discuss that. For me to just reveal every surprise attack and tricky move and lucky break might change the war in unpredictable ways, and might even let Hitler win. (It was absolutely necessary that nothing happened to make Hitler less ineffective. I have resolved in my own mind to save lives by telling them about technological and tactical improvements that would make the war less deadly and more efficient.)
3. For the Army, I would start by telling them that the BAR was not going to work, and neither was squad musketry. They needed to put a real machinegun into every rifle squad, even if they just copied the German MG34. (I would warn them not to use that awful Bren the British stuck themselves with.) They also needed to skip tank destroyers and just put a decent gun and decent armor on a slightly bigger version of the Sherman. I would also mention that the light tanks would end up being of no real use and that the Army would do better to build pure battalions of Super Shermans. I would tell them to double the amount of infantry in the armored divisions. Most of all, I would explain how the replacement system wasted tens of thousands of lives and explain the idea of a "replacement battalion" where every new soldier would spent the first few days in the division (learning how to not get killed). I would also tell them to let black men serve in combat if they volunteered for it.
4. To help the Marines, I would explain that the Reising rifle could not be maintained in the field and they should just buy M-1 Garand rifles.
5. To help the Navy, well, the first and most painful thing I have to do is ask them to cancel all of the Iowa-class battleships. While they are things of beauty, they won't ever fight another battleship and cheaper ships can do other missions. I would explain the snorkel concept to the submarine service, and angled-deck carriers to the aviation boys. I would also warn them to mount battleship radar dishes where they have an unrestricted 360° view with no blind spot. (Such a blind spot on the USS Washington almost caused us to lose Guadalcanal.)
6. For the Army Air Forces, I could advise them to start building P-47s and P-51s faster, and recommend that maybe the B-25 and B-26 were just as good as each other and it might be cheaper to pick one of them. I would also tell the Army Air Forces that the book (by the Italian ace Douhet) saying that air power can win a war without the Army or Navy is just wrong. Worse than wrong, it's total nonsense. The Germans learned that when Goering (another disciple of Douhet) failed to destroy the British Army at Dieppe.
7. I would then tell Eisenhower that he needed to let Patton close the Falaise gap, force the British to cut off the German 15th Army on the Sheldt instead of letting it escape, cancel Market-Garden, and make Monty clear the river so that the port of Antwerp could be used to support the entire war effort.